By Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — A rousing defensive effort helped the New Orleans Pelicans boost their flickering playoff hopes.
Anthony Davis had 31 points and 15 rebounds, helping to compensate for the absence of injured DeMarcus Cousins, and New Orleans beat the Denver Nuggets 115-90 on Sunday night.
“Offensively, we did a really great job of moving the basketball,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “But the defense won the game, let’s tell it like it is. We were great defensively.”
Denver dropped into a tie for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot with Portland, which beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81.
New Orleans is 11th in the West with nine games remaining and faces long odds in trying to overtake Dallas, Portland and Denver for the No. 8 seed.
Nevertheless, against the Nuggets, the Pelicans overcame the absence of Cousins, who sat out because of a right ankle injury sustained during Friday’s loss at Houston. And they shut down a Denver team that converted only 37.9 percent of its shots from the field.
It was just the fifth time this season Denver shot below 40 percent, the third-fewest such games in the NBA.
Denver also went only 6 of 25 on 3-point attempts, snapping a team-record streak of 25 games in which the Nuggets made at least nine 3s.
“I think we locked in defensively,” said Davis, who had his 45th double-double of the season and finished with 30 or more points for the 32nd time. “Knowing that they play through (Nikola) Jokic and when he gets assists they are very effective, my job is to try to make it tougher for him and I think we did a great job of that.”
Jrue Holiday and Jordan Crawford added 13 points apiece for the Pelicans, who have won four of five.
Denver, which plays at Portland on Tuesday night, was led by Mason Plumlee’s 16 points. Gary Harris and Jamal Murray had 13 each.
“We’ve just got to bounce back,” guard Jameer Nelson said. “We’re a good team and we believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Up by 15 at halftime, the Pelicans quickly stretched their lead to 22 in the opening minutes of the third quarter behind three consecutive baskets from Davis, including one that was part of a three-point play. By the time E’Twaun Moore hit a jumper right before the end of the third quarter, the Pelicans were leading 87-59 and the Nuggets’ attempts to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter were fruitless.
The Nuggets made just five of their 25 shots in the second and finished with only 14 points in the period. The Pelicans scored 26 and pulled out to a 55-40 lead at halftime.
Denver coach Michael Malone blamed the loss on an uncharacteristic performance by the Nuggets, who had won seven of 10.
“It was an awful effort, but this is not who we’ve been, which gives me hope that we can turn the page and get back to being who we’ve been, and we’ve been a very good team lately,” Malone said.
Pelicans: Gentry said Cousins’ ankle injury was too painful for him to take part in the team’s shootaround earlier Sunday and the decision was made to sit him for the game to avoid making it worse. “There is no way we are going to stick him out there and risk further injuries for one game,” Gentry said. … Davis’ 14-point first quarter marked the 29th time this season he has scored in double figures in the opening period.
Nuggets: The 25-point loss was Denver’s biggest in its series with the Pelicans. The previous high was 24 points, which Denver endured twice. … Denver is 0-13 when failing to score 100 points.
Pelicans: Complete a back-to-back set on the road by visiting Utah on Monday night.
Nuggets: Embark on a make-or-break five-game road trip, with the first stop Tuesday night in Portland.